Monday night was the last evening home game of the season for Coventry Sphinx in a season that has been an impressive one for Sphinx at Sphinx Drive. Just two home league defeats all season had me arriving in an optimistic mood for tonight’s clash with AFC Wulfrunians. You should take nothing for granted in the Midland Alliance though as any team is capable of beating you in this competitive division. The Sphinx boss Luke Hopkins made two changes to the team that came so close to beating league leaders Tividale on Saturday with Number 1 keeper Carl O’Neill replacing the young Farthing in goal and striker Rickie Cutting returning to the side in place of Luke Williams. Ashley Cain was also available again after suspension but had to settle for a place on the bench.
Sphinx knocked the ball around nicely in the opening minutes but got off to the worst possible start when they conceded after just 9 minutes. A good ball was played thorough the Sphinx defence and Sphinx keeper O’Neill rushed out of his box to win the tackle but could only knock it to a waiting Wulfrunians player who lobbed the loose ball into an empty net from 30 yards. Sphinx 1-0 down. It was becoming clear in the early stages of the match that the referee was going to have a big influence. In his eyes the majority of the tackles coming in from both sides were a foul which led to the game becoming scrappy. Sphinx were struggling to get into their rhythm. On 29 minutes Wulfrunians had the ball midway in the Sphinx half and the referee was once again about to blow for foul when he decided to play the advantage. Wulfrunians did take advantage and got themselves into a good position which resulted in the Sphinx keeper having to produce a save. Advantage over you would think but the referee had other ideas. Much to everyone’s amazement, he pulled the play back to the initial foul and awarded Wulfrunians a free kick. They took it quickly and caught Sphinx napping and put themselves 2-0 up with half an hour gone. A tough task now lay ahead of Sphinx. Shortly after the goal Sphinx Drive was plunged into darkness as the floodlights failed. The players left the pitch and the supporters made their way to the pitch-side cafe for some premature refreshments! I took the opportunity to buy a Coventry Sphinx scarf (and top quality they are too) and within ten minutes we were back underway to complete the first half. Just as the game got going we heard the half time whistle. Half Time Coventry Sphinx 0 AFC Wulfrunians 2 and a huge task ahead for Sphinx in the second half.
After a short half time break the game got going again and Sphinx were going to have to make sure they were the ones to get the next goal if they were to take anything from this match. Within minutes of the second half starting Sphinx were making use of their substitutes with Downes and Downie leaving the field of play to be replaced by Fowler and Cain. Cain made an immediate impact with his incredible pace on the wing. In the 61st minute the two Sphinx substitutes combined to pull a goal back. Cain delivered an excellent cross and Matty Fowler rose to head the ball home. Deficit reduced and half an hour left to play so it was now game on. Before Sphinx had the opportunity to get up a head of steam they were to concede again. This time it was a straightforward corner that found it’s way into the Sphinx net in the 73rd minute and with time running out a rare home defeat was on the cards. Sphinx never gave up and kept on pressing for a goal but Wulfrunians defended well to protect their advantage and Sphinx slipped to only their 3rd home league defeat of the season. Always disappointing to lose but I would say all the goals were preventable and the second half performance was much more like the Sphinx I know so I remain confident that Sphinx will finish the season well.
A brief word on the referee. I’ve never been someone who is overly critical of referees because I appreciate they have a tough job (I certainly wouldn’t want to do it!) but his overly officious nature broke up the play better than any defensive midfielder could dream of. It was so unnecessary in a game that was competitive but certainly not dirty. In all honesty it was a dreadful performance from the referee and it’s a rare thing for me to even comment on a ref so that should say it all.
The usual tough decision for “Man of the Match” now and there were a few contenders. Ashley Cain made an excellent impact when coming on as a substitute. His pace and skill caused problems for Wulfrunians and he certainly looked refreshed after his return from suspension. Dainty produced another decent performance but my vote goes to left back Ricky Hill. He was solid in defence and also had a good impact on the game going forward
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: 1. O’NEILL 2. DYKE 3. HILL 4. FLETCHER 5. WILKS 6. BILIC 7. DOWNES 8. BAXTER 9. CUTTING 10. DOWNIE 11. DAINTY
Substitutes: CAIN (on for Downie 51 mins), FOWLER (on for Downes 53 mins)
REMAINING COVENTRY SPHINX FIXTURES:
KIRBY MUXLOE Saturday 12th April 3pm Away
ALVECHURCH Saturday 19th April 3pm Away
COLESHILL Monday 21st April 3pm HOME
WESTFIELDS Saturday 26th April 3pm Away